Before I get into gushing about Pandora, let me ask that you give Emiliana Torrini a chance. If you like mellow, folk-inspired music like Iron and Wine or Feist, you'll like Torrini. If using the word "folk" turned you off, just pretend I didn't write it. Her voice is incredible and you'll love it unless you just have to be able to headbang and/or pop and lock to everything you hear. Try finding "Today Has Been Okay," or "Sunny Road". If it doesn't work for you, that's fine. Just don't tell me or I may think less of you.
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I'm really glad I gave Pandora Radio a renewed chance. As evidenced by the blog, I had been a huge fan of Last.fm, and I still like that site. It's basically the same thing as Pandora, anyway. I think the main reason I had become a hardcore Last.fm user was because I knew a lot of other members there from other areas of my life and could use them as musical reference points in my sonic explorations.
Of course, then Last.fm was blocked by the Internet filter at my school and I was left tuneless and depressed for several months of fluorescently illuminated work. Luckily, Meaghan reminded me about Pandora. I already had an account from when I first came across the site before I had a work situation that involved more than an hour of independent work that allowed for extended music sessions. After all, the radio and grading papers in a room by yourself are far from mutually exclusive. Working in a room full of people, not so much.
After a few weeks of noodling around on Pandora, I think I may actually prefer the lady who owned a box to the ultimate frequency modulation. The Pandora site is set up so that you can access information about the music, your profile, and other areas of the site without stopping the music. On Last.fm, unless you were playing the radio in a pop-up window, whenever you navigated to another page of the site, the music stopped and you had to start over with a new song. Even clicking the radio to play in pop-up mode restarted the station, meaning you had to wait until the station got to a song you didn't care about missing. Considering that both sites are easily tailored to your tastes, finding a song you don't like takes longer than on traditional radio formats. The only other way around that quirk of Last.fm's design was to right click and choose open in a new tab or window, which worked, but required an extra click and the ability to remember to always right click.
Of course, I can't find a widget on Pandora like the one in my blog side bar that tells you what I've been listening to, but that's a small price to pay, really.
The main difference between Last.fm and Pandora that I've noticed in content is that Pandora seems to play a wider variety. I'm assuming this is a basic difference in the algorithms used by the two sites to choose artists and songs for the listener. I get everything from old country to alternative and old-school hip hop on Pandora. That pretty much describes my musical tastes, though, so I don't mind. I also get the occasional Linkin Park, Disturbed, and Metallica song. I'll let the Metallica slide if I'm in the mood, but I've been clicking the thumbs down icon on the other two to try to get them out of future queues. I'm not sure why Pandora thinks a guy who digs Willie Nelson, Iron and Wine, and Modest Mouse would want music for angry teenage boys.
The real shame is that Sirius/XM don't have something like Pandora or Last.fm as an option. I'd be willing to pay for their sports and news stations as long as I could have a customized station or two that played songs based on my personal tastes. Not only would I have to sit through fewer songs that suck while driving in my car, but I'd have to sit through fewer instances of one song played every thirty minutes. I've sat with Last.fm and Pandora playing for hours without a repeated song. I'd hear a few songs by the same artist in those stretches, but never a repeated song.
Of course, there is that portable Internet radio player being advertised now, but I have no idea if it's any good. If it is, perhaps I should pick one up.